Sun Dan, my oldest friend, is a reflection of the former me. She’s content to take whatever this place has to throw at her – thick clouds of smoke; a kid pissing right beside her sandaled foot; the guy at the next table sneezing into the back of her head as he turns round to spare his lunch - all without standing up and shouting: “This is not fucking good enough!” Right now, though, I need Dan to understand; I need her to see that this restaurant, these people, this city – none of them are good enough.
Dermot and I broke up over football. That is what I like to tell people. I can even pinpoint the match that set everything off. Norwich City vs. Man U. The argument took off when Dermot checked the score on his phone in the middle of sex. With me. I always switch my phone off during sex but I’m seven years older than Dermot, who is twenty-nine. I remember unplugging the landline in my first rented flat before closing my bedroom door and facing a boy. I still find phone jacks a bit sexual. Maybe Dermot’s dismay about Norwich losing contributed to his dwindling of erection. Maybe not. It’s too late to ask now.
One nice thing about Josh having more money than God these days, even if the rest of it is colossally weird: whenever they hang out now, the food is always amazing. "Remember in high school when we used to cut seventh and go to Taco Bell all the time?" Natalie asks, knifing a slice of cheese off a block that probably cost about as much as this semester’s grad stipend. They're sitting on the back porch of Josh's cabin, sun just starting to sink and Lake Michigan glittering through a cluster of pine trees, a long pathway snaking down to a dock.
John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester, is often thought to be the quintessential Restoration man, in terms of his debauched lifestyle and squandered brilliance. When he began one of his most famous poems, A Ramble In St James’s Park, with the statement that ‘Much wine had passed, with grave discourse Of who fucks who, and who does worse’, his aristocratic readers, recognising themselves as those who participated in such ‘grave discourse’, would have sniggered and enjoyed the allusion.
I have a lot of male friends. The nice kind. The kind that want a girlfriend, get sweaty-palmed before a date, and are giddy when it goes well. So I’m constantly baffled when, after a first date, I get the traditional phone-call run-down and they are disappointed because it ‘all went wrong’.
Her Mouth// It is sister to disgust,// the turn of a spatula in the gut,// a pulsed blow to the brain,// all this kissing.// It is like exchanging dirty underthings.
Veronica was staying there for the latter end of the season, invited by friends of friends to house sit. She spent her days swimming and reading, flopping from her bed to the pool and back again, her skin turning slowly from city grey to rejuvenated white, as she relaxed, then from white to pink, as the sun’s rays spread into her, warming her to her core. She was feeling better than when she arrived, but still desolate as yet another relationship had fallen apart. The villa allowed her to live naked, a timid Eve in an empty garden devoid of fig and apple trees, or even snakes, for that matter.
It came between cunnilingus and orgasm. Does it matter if he tastes a little wee? Does my partner have to scream? And I just threw up the fader on music - REM, Everybody Hurts - and sagged in a heap in my swivel chair. Was there any chance they’d give me the books programme? The dork who was doing that must be bored by now too. ‘Well, does she have to scream?’ I put the question to our resident sexpert, that is to myself. ‘Well, I am sure we all remember the teenage days of furtive sex, when it was a matter of survival that you wouldn’t be heard. And surely, if anything, it was even more exciting. So, no; she doesn’t have to scream. But why does it bother you? Perhaps that’s the question we should be asking.’ I knew exactly where to take this, on a meandering course through cheap psychology past every embarrassing consideration.
I’ve spent 20 hours of my life on the Greyhound bus, traveling from Washington DC to Columbia, Missouri. The Greyhound is an extreme experience. I passed through more blank land than I’ve ever seen in my life, and I was simultaneously connected to and isolated from other people as a transient panorama of humanity unfolded in front of me.
Two aspiring writers, one the middle-aged and eponymous George, the other Catherine, a beautiful young Cambridge graduate, find their lives crossing at various strange intersections. George loves Winston Churchill and Charlie Chaplin. Catherine likes writing dodgy love poems. They both enjoy a bit of lubricious chastisement, albeit from slightly different perspectives.